syncro safari day one

This is the third year for Syncro safari, and there are ten syncro vanagons here. (There were supposed to be eleven, but one had mechanical problems on the way here.) They’re all beautiful, and spectacular when seen as a group, snaking through thick scrub at the head of a high desert canyon.

on a dirt road near Mono Lake

We took off a little late today, hitting the road at around 9am. We drove north for an hour, through Lee Vining and past the turn off to Bodie. We finally turned off onto a small dirt road that quickly got much smaller. The sage was higher than the windows and the road was narrower than the vans. As a result, all of our vans have been well-rubbed in sage and are now nicely aromatic.

At one point, both of my side mirrors were flattened against my van by brush. This was during a particularly tricky turn upwards when the road tilted down. The pine tree to one side and the sagebrush to the other folded the mirrors against my windows with a loud bang. For a moment I thought I’d blown a tire.

We stopped at Chemung mine, one of many abandoned mines from the Owens Valley gold rush. The mine was well-preserved, except for numerous shotgun blasts through the tin siding of some of the buildings. Walking around checking out the ruins, you would come across open shafts going down further than you could see, and others extending horizontally into the hillside. It’s amazing what folks will do for a soft yellow metal, but I guess anything can have value if someone says it does. (If you have any reason to doubt me, browse eBay for a while.)

From the Chemung mine, we drove across stark open scrub for about an hour until we came to the old ghost town of Bodie. In brief, Bodie was the biggest city in Mono county for quite a while, and then the gold dried up. Shortly afterwards, everyone left. When they left, they often left everything behind. (You can imagine them saying “Screw this crap!”) Shops still have shelves filled with inventory. A casket maker’s home still contains a showroom filled with fancy cloth-lined caskets of various sizes. Cookware sits in a kitchen, dusty but otherwise ready for use.

Then, in 1956 or so, Bodie was ‘rediscovered’. Amazed at how well this slice of the past was preserved, the state of California made it into a historic park, preserved in a state of ‘arrested decay’. And that’s how we found it.

Unfortunately, the van driven by Dave and Jorge had a catastrophic water pump failure in Bodie. (Dave and Jorge are rock climbers from Santa Cruz.) It managed to limp back 15 miles to Highway 395, but then the pump seized. The van sits in a motel parking lot, awaiting tomorrow’s rescue. Luckily Don Johnson had a spare pump and Dave’s a mechanic. (I have a spare pump, but prefer to reserve it for South America.)

One other thing failed today. My digital camera started acting weird, and soon began acting downright bizarre. Occasionally “SYSTEM ERROR” would appear overlayed on the viewfinder. Removing the batteries didn’t work. Resetting the camera didn’t work. Luckily my boyfriend Dan has the same camera, and he’s generously offered to exchange it with me in a few days at Burning Man. Until then, no pictures.

It’s 8:30pm now. People are sitting around the communal fire talking about music and roasting marshmallows. I’m going to lay in bed and wonder about all of the things that could go wrong on 10,000 miles of dirt road, and how little I know about how my van works.


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